Restorative Discipline & Practice in the Language Classroom

     restorative justice

Abigail Long and Yeonseo Park will be presenting “Restorative Discipline & Practice in the Language Classroom” at CELT Seoul 2016.  I had the pleasure of getting to know them last month through this interview as they explained the concepts they use in their classrooms.

(1) How did you get connected with English language teaching? 

Abbigail Long: I graduated from Messiah College in Grantham, PA with a bachelors in English Literature, but have always been a little bit of a language nerd, and thoroughly enjoyed my linguistics course in undergrad. After graduation, I was looking for ways to make myself more marketable, so I took a TEFL certification course, only to fall in love with the field. As a literature major, I’ve always had a fascination with words and grammar, but through my TEFL course I grew to be extremely interested with language acquisition and teaching language effectively and in a way that includes the learner in the process.

Yoonseo Park: In Connexus’s beginnings, I was a member of a Christian religious NGO called KAC (Korean Anabaptist Center), and was responsible for peace-building activities there. KAC started Connexus partly as a source of revenue, but also because English is a powerful language in Korea. Nearly everybody in Korea is interested in learning English, and we thought that English education would be a way of introducing basic peace-building concepts to people. For a time, I was the vice president of Connexus along with my duties at KOPI (Korean Peacebuilding Institute) and then transitioned later to a full time role at KOPI. Also in the role of Connexus vice president, I was one of the primary facilitators for dialogue circles addressing behavior issues.

(2) Abigail, how did you come to Korea?

I came to Korea for two reasons: one was that I was looking for a place to teach English overseas, and the other was that I had started to study Korean for fun the last semester of college and grew to love it, so I was looking for a place to also continue those studies with a chance to practice with native speakers. Korea was the most obvious choice to fulfill both of those desires. I found Connexus due to its connection to the Korean Anabaptist Center, as I come from an Anabaptist background.

(3) What is restorative discipline?

Restorative discipline is a form of Restorative Justice, which is a way of addressing harmful behavior in a way that goes deeper that traditional retributive measures. Restorative Discipline is the response when harms occur, and is under the ‘umbrella’ so to speak, of Restorative Practice. According to the definition provided by the International Institute for Restorative Practices, “restorative practices also includes the use of informal and formal processes that precede wrongdoing, those that proactively build relationships and a sense of community to prevent conflict and wrongdoing…The social science of restorative practices offers a common thread to tie together theory, research and practice in diverse fields such as education, counseling, criminal justice, social work and organizational management.” (

The key goals of restorative discipline are:

(1) To understand the harm and develop empathy for both the harmed and the harmer.

(2) To listen and respond to the needs of the person harmed and the person who harmed.

(3) To encourage accountability and responsibility through personal reflection within a collaborative planning process.

(4) To reintegrate the harmer (and, if necessary, the harmed) into the community as valuable, contributing members.

(5) To create caring climates to support healthy communities.

(6) To change the system when it contributes to the harm.

Here are some guiding questions for a restorative justice approach (and so restorative discipline): Who has been hurt? What are their needs? Whose obligations are they? What are the causes? Who has a “stake” in this? Lastly, what is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders in an effort to put things right? (Amstutz, Lorraine Stutzman., and Judy H. Mullet. The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools: Teaching Responsibility, Creating Caring Climates. Intercourse, PA: Good, 2005. Print.)

(4) How can it benefit the English language classroom?

Abigail Long: In my experience, Restorative Practice, which includes Restorative Discipline, benefits the English language classroom in many ways, but here are two that I’ve observed and experienced often. First, it provides a framework for teachers of how behaviors are addressed, and it is highly collaborative between students and teachers. Because the focus is on relationships rather than reward and punishment, the classroom becomes a safe place and one more conducive to learning. Secondly, Restorative Practice is heavily focused on good communication practice, and since language teaching has communication as one of its main goals, anything that helps achieve this goal is a benefit to the language classroom.

Yoonseo Park: We believe that this way of discipline is the right thing to do. There are two parts of education; one part is academic, and the second part is social. Restorative Discipline addresses the social part. Kids make mistakes in their actions; this is part of the learning and growing process. So it is really important to teach them how to take responsibility in a healthy way that repairs harm.

(5) Can you describe some of the restorative practice activities that can be used in the classroom?

Abigail Long: There are so many! Dialogue circles with teachers and students affected to address wrongdoing; team building games that create rapport between classmates and teachers are two that I use frequently.

Yoonseo Park: Check in circles at the beginning of class, so that each student  knows each other’s condition so that they can be more sensitive and empathetic to each other. Another one is making common rules together when a new semester starts, also called “promises of respect.”

(6) How can restorative practices facilitate learning and/or collaboration?

Abigail Long: Children learn better in a classrooms where they have strong relationships with their classmates and their teachers and feel safe. This is something that isn’t a new idea in education; restorative practice simply makes a focused effort on creating those relationships and a safe place. There is no promise of course that restorative practice will certainly lead to the desired learning, because there are different factors that come into play as well (teaching method, learner ability, health, etc.) but it helps get rid of roadblocks in classroom relationships that affect learning. Restorative practice done thoroughly and most effectively also includes collaboration with parents and school administrators, so it becomes a school culture.

Yoonseo Park: The main reason why we are doing this is in order to build new relationships among kids. Relationship is the key, so everything related to RD and RP is collaborative, because it always involves another persons, even conflict resolution for things like bullying. Circle processes especially let kids experience horizontal relationship; every where they go they experience vertical relationships with people who have power over them. RD and RP create a safe place for kids to feel open to sharing feelings and ideas etc.

(7) Do you have stories/testimonies on how restorative practices have facilitated learning and/or collaboration?

Abigail Long: At Connexus, one class I had was very difficult and would be very sporadic in doing their homework, and as a result were making very little progress, especially in reading and writing. Their attitudes in class were also unhelpful, and I felt like I had to pull every word out of their mouths. Sometimes they were even quite rude. After talking with my fellow teachers and the Korean staff, we decided to have a dialogue circle, so that I could express my frustration honestly to the students and they in turn could share what they were feeling, then we could try to come up with a solution together. The students heard how their behavior was really hurting my feelings because I had spent so much effort preparing the lesson. I was able to hear from the students that the homework needed to be explained better. We came up with ways to help them be motivated to do their homework together, with the help of Korean staff. We ended up needing to do many check-in circles, but that class went from turning in around 1-2 assignments a week from each student to not missing a single assignment for an entire month. But what made me rejoice more than anything was the change in atmosphere. Because we had expressed our real feelings to each other in a safe place, we were closer, and had more rapport. There were weeks following where they slipped in their homework again, but we were able to talk about the issue more easily because of the hard work we had done with the dialogue circle. The relationships became as important as the academic work. I should mention that this was not a “quick fix”; the dialogue circles were conducted over the space of two months. There were many times where I wondered if it was worth it, since I wasn’t seeing instantaneous results. In the end though, I can say with confidence that it laid the groundwork for a great class.

Yoonseo Park: I once was part of facilitating a dialogue circle in an elementary school classroom due to an incident of violence related to bullying. It wasn’t a one time event, it had been happening for a long time. Somehow in the classroom there was a kind of pyramid of relationships, with some kids on top, some on the bottom. So quite often the “top kids” bothered the “bottom kids.” But when those things happened, the kids in the middle didn’t do anything, they simply took the role of onlooker. For them it seemed like it was just “part of the system,” and they didn’t feel like it was a problem. So we decided to have a circle process, this time with two circles. The Circle inside was the victims and offenders, and those sitting in the outside circle were the middle kids. First we asked the victims and offenders to share what happened and how it impacted the victim students. So everyone was able to hear how those incidents and that culture of pyramid relationships had hurt those victims. That was an eye opening opportunity for the middle kids, and they started thinking about how those things impacted even them as well. We gave a chance for the middle kids to share one by one how they felt as they listened to the victims’ story, and asked them “what can you do to prevent the same things from happening in your classroom?” So everybody shared one thing they could do. Those things became the rules of respect for their class. It was the first time for the kids to be part of a classroom resolving process. They were used to just taking orders from teachers, so it was the first time they were able to actively participate in that process. The core of education is rooted in questioning; adults and teachers make questions for students, and with their help students discover the answers and “report” back to them. So, is important for teachers to ask restorative questions; when questions change the answers can be different, and when answers are different, action can be different. Sometimes we focus on being fast and efficient, but sometimes we lose our direction in this. RD and RP helps to slow down and refocus on the “WHY.”

(8) Do you have any other comments on restorative practices that Christian teachers would be interested in?

Abigail Long: There are so many free resources available online in this area, so I would encourage anyone who is interested in creating a restorative classroom to do a little digging and see what you can find.

Yoonseo Park: Christian teachers in Korea who can speak Korean also can find training and workshop opportunities in this area through the Korea Peace-building Institute and Restorative Justice Korea.



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